Charges against 13 men tried last month for plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government are politically motivated and should be dropped, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, ahead of a verdict in the trial Friday.
HRW says in a statement that there is no credible evidence tying the men—six of whom are being tried in absentia—to the crimes, which were allegedly plotted in neighboring Thailand, where seven were arrested by Thai authorities in March 2013 and spirited to Cambodia.
“The conviction of any of these 13 defendants will not be proof of guilt but rather of Hun Sen’s control over Cambodia’s courts to weaken the opposition with false accusations,” said HRW’s Asia director, Brad Adams. “No one should be sentenced to prison to serve Hun Sen’s political agenda.”
The Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), which the men are allegedly members of, was founded in December 2012 and immediately launched an aggressive campaign—mostly online—calling for Mr. Hun Sen’s removal.
HRW claims that Mr. Hun Sen revealed his involvement in the matter last year, when he announced in May that members of the opposition CNRP were linked to the alleged terrorist groups.
He said in the speech that “another movement, whose members we have arrested with evidence, is the Khmer National Liberation Front, which was created in Thailand and has been deported by the Thai government.”
On Thursday, Mr. Adams said Mr. Hun Sen’s comments were an attempt to “tar the opposition with the brush of violent extremism.”
“The evidence presented in court makes clear this plot was concocted and that the charges should be dropped,” he added.
During the men’s one-day trial on March 28, one of the lawyers representing the group said police witnesses offered scant evidence implicating the suspects in any actual terrorist plot.
Judges were told that while police had documents to prove the men’s guilt, it was an “internal police matter.”
The Minority Rights Organization has also been vocal in its concerns for the 13 men, six of whom are Khmer Krom, citing allegations that confessions over the plot were extracted under torture.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the accusations of executive interference were “baseless.”
“The courts go with their own professional decisions—they don’t listen to the prime minister,” he said.